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Self-image on edge: under the scalpel of cosmetic surgery, a quest for confidence for these Nivernaises

“I thought it was miraculous,” says Ninon

, fifty today. About ten years ago, she shed 3,000 € in the hope of losing a few pounds with liposuction performed in Bourges. “I was promised relief, I was relieved,” she laughs. This Nivernaise “who doesn’t consider herself beautiful” has always been obsessed with her image.

She hoped that with the suction of the fat from her belly, her thighs, her buttocks, some of her complexes would disappear. These remained. The pounds came back. “But after the operation, I resumed sport. This was the first step for me to re-muscle. She has not ceased her sporting activities since that day.

It is these operations that are at the crossroads of scalpels, between embellishment and repair, helping to reshape the well-being of the person at the same time as his silhouette. Julie, a 36-year-old from Nivernaise, thus benefited from partial reimbursement of her breast reduction by Social Security. “I was doing 105 H”, she testifies, a substantial chest size which earned her mockery in college.

“I had wanted to have surgery for several years, I preferred to wait until my children were grown up. Physically, I had cervical problems. Not to mention the difficulties in getting dressed: I remember one summer when I was desperately looking for a swimsuit, I tried on seven or eight, it was a disaster…”

“You have to understand that this is not necessarily a whim. It is a comfort. »

80 stitches (removed one by one) and €1,750 in excess fees later, Julie has no regrets: “I found ease in my clothes, they tell me it changed me. I still kept an underwear to remember how it was before…”

Globally, women still make up more than 80% of applicants for cosmetic procedures. Catherine Bergeret-Galley, president of the French Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and general secretary of the National Syndicate of Reconstructive and Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, reports the most frequent: remodeling of the silhouette, first of all, “to erase the bulges, refine », the breast reconstruction, then the rejuvenation of the face, finally. The attention paid to the latter has increased with the pandemic and the use of videoconferencing. Constantly scrutinized by his colleagues and by himself, “we find all the faults in the world”, comments the specialist.

From correction to improvement

At the start, historically, recalls the sociologist Anne Gotman, director of research emeritus at the CNRS, “what we operated on was disgrace. Hare lip, protruding ears… then the development of cosmetic surgery went hand in hand with advances in war medicine. We have redone faces. »

The boom in the cosmetics industry has boosted the momentum of the “self-care” beauty market. Cosmetic surgery began to be associated with social progress. “We find that today in the demands of professions linked to the public, people whose job requires them to be in good shape, presentable, tanned. Then you have the repairs of bodily changes, after pregnancies or illnesses, or the fear of aging, ”continues Anne Gotman.

Finally, the search for an adequacy with fashionable aesthetic codes persists, a desire for conformity, marked among the youngest (the 19-34 year olds are moreover those who have the most recourse to surgical procedures). “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I want to be like Marylin. We say rather: “I want nothing to protrude”. It is linked to a need for self-control which is omnipresent in our current life, to leave nothing to chance, to maintain, to maintain,” explains Anne Gotman.

Natural beauty, artificial beauty

As far as beauty is concerned, however, the whole paradox resides in the values ​​associated with it, in the perpetual opposition between natural and artificial, in the contradictory injunctions from which one must succeed in disentangling oneself. Philippe Liotard, sociologist from the University of Lyon 1, analyzes: “Society never ceases to demand that bodies conform to aesthetic ideals. But the natural refers to fantasies, a kind of aristocracy of beauty. »

The person constructing his appearance embarks on a singular process, even if many people reproduce the same process. Philippe Liotard


And to cite the example of a natural breast which would have, in the collective unconscious, more “value” than artificial breasts. As Julie testifies: “As soon as we talk about it, people think superficiality. You have to understand that this is not necessarily a whim. It is a comfort. »

The normalization of bodies does not prevent their singularity, which does not come from the form of the individual, “but from subjectivity, from incarnation. The person constructing their appearance embarks on a singular process, even if many people reproduce the same process,” adds Philippe Liotard.

“I have to look at myself with the idea in my head that I could change that. »

Anne Gotman was able to observe, during her interviews, that some people had strengthened their self-esteem through surgery. “You have men or women who are stuck on something they don’t like, which bothers them. A woman told me: “cosmetic surgery is happiness”. We felt that it was sincere and we can very well imagine it. »

Catherine Bergeret-Galley defines her mission as follows: “to repair body image and narcissistic wounds in the same movement. We try to help people love each other better. »


Anne Gotman recounts, in the continuation of the exchange with the woman mentioned above, the latter’s progressive desire to resort to surgery to “improve” other parts of her body. “We say to ourselves, these saddlebags, why not take them off too. This is what I call subscription, a perpetual quest to correct faults. I think that’s what causes a lot of damage…”

However, practitioners are careful not to encourage extravagance. “We have what we call the ‘French touch’”, specifies Catherine Bergeret-Galley. “We must be reasonable in the acts we perform. We take care to maintain harmony, without excess volume. “And to insist on caution in the acts carried out, or even on the accompaniment of the youngest. “Sometimes we have young women to whom we explain that no, the big lips of a reality TV starlet, that would not suit them at all. We advise them to think about it, to talk about it with their sister, their mother. In general, they trust us. »

And if I pulled a little, there?…

The democratization of cosmetic surgery is also not without effect on those who, at first glance, would not have thought of it. Knowing that a change is just around the corner changes your perception of yourself. “Me, I have to look at myself with the idea in my head that I could change that,” laughs Anne Gotman. “Well, we can comfort ourselves by watching the disasters of certain women who are shot. But whatever the case, it imposes, year in year out, year in year out, a standard. Already in the 1930s, a surgeon wrote: “In twenty years, it will be as unseemly to be ugly and look old as to look dirty.” »

Some see in cosmetic surgery a means of becoming oneself (a priori, for the better), a release from the gaze of others, a tool participating in sculpting self-confidence. Others make fun of it or reject it, assimilating its recourse to a submission to diktats from which it would be necessary to emancipate oneself by agreeing to live with the body given at the start. Pro or anti-scalpel, basically, it doesn’t matter: what matters is being free to choose…

The distorting mirror of screens: adolescence and appearance
Spaces of socialization overinvested by the youngest, social networks are not without consequences on the construction of the image they have of themselves.

First of all, let’s remember that it is useless to demonize social networks on principle.

“They do not have their own dangerousness”, explains Virginie Robin, clinical psychologist. “It is the use that can be made of it that is dangerous. »

On Instagram, however, the proliferation of normative models raises questions. From influencers with retouched photos, to bodies modified by cosmetic surgery, to clinics that promote themselves, not to mention the use of “filters”, very popular to magically remove cellulite or blackheads, “this hyperstimulation can aggravate problems that already exist”, analyzes Virginie Robin.

The importance of the desire for integration

In adolescence, a period of transition, “the changing character of the body is difficult to live with”, especially among young girls, she notes. This experience comes up against “the need to be integrated into a group of peers. Teenagers need to be like others, among others. The constant interactions, the “likes” and other thumbs up lead to a request for perpetual validation which can disturb the gaze placed on oneself.

On Youtube or Instagram, these Nivernais have found their audience

For Virginie Robin, the setting up of support groups can make it possible to lift the veil on these illusions, to accept the variety of bodies and their reality. Finally, she reassures, specifying that “the cases of cosmetic surgery in adolescence increase little, because the surgeons remain attentive to identify whether or not there is a problem of dysmorphophobia. And they encourage to consult, rather, a psychologist. »

Alice Forges

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